Wireless carrier AT&T is testing the next generation of “superfast” wireless technology. The company has rolled out a 5G roadmap that showcases its patented technologies, including network function virtualization), software-defined networking and millimeter waves, that promise superfast connectivity.
What qualifies as superfast? AT&T is talking speeds of anywhere from 10 to 100 times faster than average 4G LTE. To put the upgrade in context, speeds will be measured in gigabits per second not megabits per second.
Practically speaking, that means you can download a TV show in less than three seconds with a 1 gigabit per second connection. 5G also paves the way for lower latency, which is the time period it takes for a video to start streaming after you hit the play button. AT&T predicts 5G latency will be as low as one to 5 milliseconds.
“New experiences like virtual reality, self-driving cars, robotics, smart cities and more are about to test networks like never before,” said John Donovan, chief strategy officer and group president of AT&T Technology and Operations (pictured above), in a statement. “These technologies will be immersive, pervasive and responsive to customers. 5G will help make them a reality.”
5G Will Drive Innovation
Video usage is driving much of the demand for a faster network. AT&T said network traffic has grown over 150,000 percent from 2007 to 2015 -- and video is the prime factor.
According to AT&T, over 60 percent of the data traffic on its network in 2015 was video and the firm predicts 4K video, Internet of Things and virtual reality to drive additional traffic growth. The benefit of 5G in this regard is it supports many radio interfaces so it uses spectrum more efficiency while also leveraging SDN and NFV technologies.
We asked Jeff Kagan, an independent telecom analyst, for his thoughts on AT&T’s 5G moves. He told us 5G will be as important a development in wireless as 4G, 3G and 2G were. That’s because every time there's a jump to the next level the speed increases dramatically, enabling new areas of innovation.
“As we moved from 3G to 4G suddenly wireless television was born,” Kagan said. “Television shows have so much data it would have taken forever to download a file in 3G or 2G mode. However in 4G mode which we all use today we know that wireless TV or mobile TV is not only possible, but in rapidly growing demand.”
No Need for Hard-Wired Line?
AT&T plans to join forces with Ericsson and Intel to push out 5G solutions as early as the second quarter of 2016. The company will start outdoor testing and trials in the summer and expects to offer 5G connectivity in Austin, Texas before the end of the year. The company did not give a firm date for widespread adoption.
“The move to the next level of 5G will be important to the end user, the carriers and the new innovative ideas, and companies that will further transform the wireless industry, the industry they come from, the investment opportunities, job growth and more,” Kagan said. “5G will be so fast many won’t need a separate Internet line into the home or office. 5G is faster than much of what we currently use at home and in the office.”
AT&T isn’t the only carrier testing 5G. Verizon announced its 5G technology road map in September, predicting the technology would hit mainstream markets in 2020. Verizon is partnering with Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, Ericsson, Nokia, Qualcomm and Samsung on the effort.
“This is the exciting part of this entire rapidly growing and changing industry. I am very happy to see the intensifying talk around 5G,” Kagan said. “I expect to see AT&T taking a lead in this new area simply because that’s what AT&T does. They are always one of the very early adopters and industry leaders. However, I see 5G being an industry phenomenon as was 4G and 3G. It’s just the next logical step.”